Thursday, April 11, 2013

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Director Fede Alvarez was recently asked if he was worried about the similarities between Cabin in the Woods (2012) and Evil Dead. For the uninitiated, Cabin in the Woods gloriously mocked the now well-worn conventions of wooded horror in a delirious blend of horror, camp, and satire. Alvarez--apparently missing the point--clarified that he was not worried by Cabin because "it wasn't really a horror movie, right?"

He is correct, Cabin was a comedy; A Comedy made possible now that the tropes of modern horror are so predictable that each outing is increasingly ridiculous, allowing modern audiences to laugh at what once may have shocked. Having seen Alvarez' Evil Dead (2013), I believe this question is something the director should have contemplated a bit further.

The Evil Dead (1981) is something of a sacred cow among its cult of followers. Sam Raimi and his long-suffering team of amateur filmmakers (including a young Joel Coen) inspired a generation of micro-budget filmmakers to quit film school and say, "I can do that!" And they did… over and over… But there is a special quirkiness about the Raimi brand that has yet to be replicated. Raimi's horror tends to work backwards from a comedic beat, lingering beyond the laugh to a point where the absurd becomes an uncomfortable reality that the viewer must confront--like a grinning clown.

Much like the pretenders to the throne of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sam Raimi's Evil Dead inspired dozens of copycats that got the formula but not the voice. Evil Dead (2013), produced by Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell has isolated moments of absurdity that never develop into proper scares beyond their jack-in-the-box wrapping.

Enough of the intangibles, let's talk story.

Evil Dead begins with a frightened young girl running through woods, pursued by what appear to be the type of lecherous men we expect to find in Deliverance. This, of course, is a red herring, as we'll soon find out, the girl is possessed and is to be "cleansed with fire" by her father while a number of locals look on in a ritual led by an anonymous gypsy woman. The demon inside reveals itself, launching into an awkward, obscenity-laced diatribe that plays unintentionally funny to a post-Excorcist audience.

Flash forward, a group of 20-somethings arrive at the old, family cabin with the intention of isolating their detoxing friend, Mia, who--as we're told through clunky exposition--has overdosed and died once already--a fact unknown to her absent older brother, David, who has removed himself from the lives of his once close-knit circle of friends. If that sounds like the makings of a supernatural melodrama on the CW network, it probably is.

I appreciate the addition of the detox plot. It allows some natural disbelief to exist among the friends once Mia experiences the reawakened evil.

Oh and about that…

Eric (David's BFF) has discovered a flesh-covered book, wrapped in a trash bag, bound with barbed wire, lying in the basement among a dozen or so hanged, dead animals in a room which turns out to be the source of the "burnt hair" smell the group has been complaining about. Yes, the site where the unfortunate soul in the prologue was "cleansed." No need for context clues or subtlety, the film flash-cuts to the scene to remind us of that thing that just happened 5 minutes earlier.

Curiously, those who saw fit to bind the book in such a way didn't think to bury it or perhaps keep it with the gypsy woman who knew of its power.

That may seem trivial, nit-picky even, but it illustrates a fundamental problem with the remake. Some of Alvarez' changes dilute the idea. Originally, the couple that discovered the book were left to an unknown fate (unseen entirely in the first film), one that resulted in their discovery of this book lying conspicuously out in the open for Ash and his friends to find. Well, Alvarez' characters are smart enough to bind the book but not smart enough to bury it.

Ignoring the ominous, hand-written warnings to stay away from the book (which all appear to have been scribbled by an obscene 13 year old), David speaks aloud those forbidden words, "Klaatu, Barada, Nik--" oh wait, wrong movie… some strange-sounding, possibly latin shit which commences an assault on Mia who has decided to bail on her detox and drive furiously through the rain to escape the woods.

Of course, a ghostly doppleganger appears in the road and, predictably, Mia swerves rather than brake, sending her car careening into the woods.

Mia is then possessed and brings the evil back to the cabin where it proceeds to wreak predictable havoc on David, Eric, Olivia, and David's girlfriend (who has maybe 4 lines in the movie).

Despite some fantastic cinematography, solid special effects work, and a few genuinely chilling visuals, the film offers very little in the way of elevating the source material, opting to to tread, once again, those already well-worn cabin in the woods cliches.

Cliche check-list:
- Ghost appearing in the road, check.
- Crouching possessed girl being slowly approached by tepid secondary character asking, "are you okay?" x 3, check.
- Ghost appearing in bathroom mirror, check
- Look away, look back, something is there x 10, check.
- Walking slowly backwards towards demon while distracted, check.
- Machete thrusting through wall over and over, inching closer to character, check.

And so on…

This may come across as particularly harsh especially for a film that is so well made and likely to be praised by genre fans eager to see the dead returning to possess the souls of the living and mutilate their victims in increasingly bloody and outlandish ways but it is a fair criticism. Horror fans have become apologists for the genre and now simply base their lofty praise on the special effects. So long as "fans" are willing to concede to the success of the makeup department, we as a movie-going audience will forever be treated to movie experiences that play more like show reels for the KNB effects group rather than an immersive, story-driven experience.

Evil Dead, despite all that it has going for it, is just a hyper-charged, frenetic cliche. Loads of energy, gallons of blood, demon-voices swirling about in digital surround sound... all carefully paced to distract you from its woefully-inept script, poor acting (save for Jane Levy's performance), tonal inconsistency, and obvious repackaging of a product you've already been sold hundreds of times over the last 30 years.

Alright Raimi, you owe us an Army of Darkness 2 now.

**1/2 out of  ****

- Samuel Farmer for

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